In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs that feature twisted takes on the family unit for Unconventional Families Week.
Simon & Garfunkel, “The Dangling Conversation” (1966)
Simon & Garfunkel cobbled together an eclectic mix of tracks for the duo’s third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme. Sprinkling satire and a few passionate ballads among more gentle folk tunes, it’s a collection that produced quite a few indelible titles. “The Dangling Conversation” is not one of them. Narrating the point of view of one half of a cold, intellectual couple who have lost their connection to each other, the song attempts to illustrate a pair who values knowledge over passion by presenting two questions that unintentionally read as laughable caricatures of ’60s liberal intellectualism: “Is analysis worthwhile? Is the theater dead?” It’s the sort of thing that would only be presented in a comedy skit about clinical-minded academics. The composition is dated as well, defined by a sweeping orchestration of strings and plinking harp that has long since fallen out of favor, making the whole thing sound stuffy. But the last stanza, when removed from the music, becomes a sad eulogy to a broken marriage: “And how the room is softly faded / And I only kiss your shadow / I cannot feel your hand / You’re a stranger now unto me.”
As overwrought as the lyrics may be, they succeed in capturing the sharp moment of realization that a relationship is over and has been for some time, the inertia of fear and habit no longer sufficient to resist the sad truth.